600,000 A&E Admissions Could be Prevented with a Nationwide Deployment of Key Digital Health Products in Primary Care

Ambulance vehicles at the Royal London Hospital

Researchers at ORCHA and the University of Warwick have identified that digital health products such as health apps could make a substantial contribution to tackling NHS urgent care pressures, by keeping patients out of hospital in the first place. 

Both the NHS Confederation and Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay, have said that tackling preventable admissions should be a key strand of a new approach to urgent and emergency care – and that up to 20% of hospital admissions are avoidable with the right care in place. 

The research team created a budget impact model which examined long-term conditions, acknowledging that these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to NHS pressures. Even so, they found that digital health tools, if deployed across primary care, could reduce pressure on the NHS and prevent annual attendances in:  

  • General practice by 5.9M  
  • Ambulance journeys by 120,000  
  • A&E by 600,000  
  • Unplanned admissions by 127,000  

By removing these pressures, each year the NHS could gain 106,000 surgical procedures in secondary care and the avoided GP appointments are the equivalent of recruiting 590 more GPs – a good move towards the target 5,000 more needed.  

These avoided attendances would save the NHS around £553m annually.  

Dr Simon Leigh, research director at ORCHA, said:

“Our budget impact model has shown how so much more can be achieved by innovative thinking. Because we simply can’t go on assuming that if we keep doing the same thing, something different will happen (Einstein’s definition of insanity). Digital health products can be used by thousands of people at the same time. No doctor could achieve this, especially when the number of doctors we have is decreasing in the first place.” 

Along with these big-picture statistics, ORCHA’s new report, Reducing urgent care pressures with digital health, offers illustrations to show how individual digital health products can be deployed as strategic preventative measures.

  • AVOIDING LOW BACK PAIN – Pathway Through Pain, a web-based app, is a clinically proven tool which delivers all the elements of an intensive pain management programme. Research conducted with the chronic pain service of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust measured the outcomes for chronic pain patients enrolled on the Pathway through Pain online course. The results indicated significantly improved outcomes for chronic pain patients, including a 24% reduction of daily problems for the patient, and a £240 cost saving per patient for the system.  
  • AVOIDING INHALER ERRORS – 90% of patients with COPD are unable to use their inhalers correctly. MyCOPD has inhaler videos to help tackle this, and research shows that the odds of critical inhaler error are 70% lower for those using myCOPD. Only 12.8% of people admitted to urgent and emergency care with COPD are getting access to pulmonary rehab due to staffing issues. myCOPD cuts re-admission rates by 50% and provides 100% access to pulmonary rehab – with no need for additional staffing.  
  • MANAGING DIABETES Second Nature is a digital programme designed to support long-term healthy habits and improve overall health. Research published in JMIR Diabetes showed that those using Second Nature lost 7kg over 6 months, maintaining a 6kg weight loss at 12 months. 

Commenting on the report, founding CEO of ORCHA, Liz Ashall-Payne, who presented to the House of Commons Select Committee on digital health last month, said:

“Low complexity digital health tools which require no interoperability with NHS systems can be used extremely effectively in preventative care. Our research team has shown how much of an impact this could make. At ORCHA we are clinicians and allied health professionals first and foremost, and everything we do is grounded in evidence. We hope that our new report will help health policy makers recognise the game-changing potential digital health offers the NHS.” 

Click here to download and read ORCHA’s full report: Reducing urgent care pressures with digital health (March 2023).